Visiting a Chinese pharmacy in the Republic of China is much like being inside a miniature museum of natural science. Tucked away in row after row of tidy drawers are animal, plant, and mineral products, each with a particular purpose. Among the assortment of curiosities are cinnabar and amber, to relax the nerves; peach pits and safflower, to improve blood circulation; bearþs gall to relieve pain and tranquilize; Chinese ephedra (mahuang) to induce perspiration; and ginseng to strengthen cardiac function.
According to Chinese legend, Shen Nung, the Chinese father of agriculture and leader of an ancient clan, took it upon himself to test, one by one, hundreds of different plants to discover their nutritional and medicinal properties. Many of these turned out to be poisonous to humans. Over the millennia, Chinese have used themselves as guinea pigs in this same way to continue testing plants for their properties of inducing cold (han), heat (jeh), warmth (wen), and coolness (liang). They classified the medicinal effects of the plants on the various parts of the body, then tested them to determine their toxicity, what dosages would be lethal, and so forth. For example, the stem of Chinese ephedra is a sudorific; but its roots, to the contrary, can check perspiration. Cassia bark is warming in nature, and is useful in treating colds. Mint is cooling in nature, and is used to relieve the symptoms of illness resulting from heat factors. This accumulation of experience strengthened the Chinese understanding of natural phenomena, and increased the applications of natural principles in Chinese medicine. The same principles described in the preceding are also applied to assess the patient living environment, his life rhythms, the foods he prefers or avoids, his personal relationships, and his language and gestures, as a tool in better understanding his illness, and suggesting improvements in various areas. Once the excesses or imbalances are pinpointed, they can be adjusted, and physical and mental health and balance restored. This attainment of equilibrium in the bodyþs flow of energy is the ultimate guiding principle of Chinese medical treatment. In addition to the prescription of medicines, acupuncture is another frequently used tool of treatment in Chinese medicine. Its history antedates written Chinese language, but acupuncture was not fully developed until after the Han dynasty. Its theoretical base is the adjustment of cþhi, or the flow of life energy. Cþhi flows through the body via the system of 'main and collateral channels' (ching luo) of the body. At certain points along these channels, acupuncture needles may be inserted, or Chinese mugwort (ai tsþao) burned in moxibustion, to adjust imbalances in the flow of cþhi, and concentrate the body self-healing powers in the points where needed.
In 1980, the World Health Organization released a list of 43 types of pathologies which can be effectively treated with acupuncture. The use of acupuncture as anesthesia during surgery or for painless childbirth is no longer news. Acupuncture is simple to administer, has few side effects, and has broad applications. It has opened up a whole new field of scientific and medical research. In the Republic of China on Taiwan, the government has put great efforts into promoting the modernization of Chinese medicine. As a result, there are now people trained in both traditional Chinese and modern Western medical arts who have made commendable contributions to the treatment of hepatitis, high blood pressure, cancer, and other diseases that are so far difficult to treat. In the area of pharmacology, researchers have evaluated effectiveness, analyzed, tested, and formulated concentrated dosages of Chinese pharmaceutical products for commercial sale. The prescriptions for these drugs are easier to fill, and are much more convenient for the patient than the old boiling method. In the area of basic science, modern research is being conducted in the field of pulse diagnosis. The three fingers used in the past to determine illness through feeling of the pulse are now being replaced by pressure reactors. The pressure reactor converts variances in pulse pressure into electromagnetic waves, and registers them on a screen. This data is then analyzed by a computer. Many important new discoveries have been made through unique combinations of traditional and modern science. In the Republic of China, the marriage of modern scientific precision with the art of traditional Chinese medicine is on the threshold of opening up a whole new world of medical diagnosis and treatment.
Photo Gallery of Traditional Chinese Medicines